”It should be remembered that the two senior Imaams, namely, Imaam Abu Hanifah and Imam Maalik were in touch with Sahaabah. They had acquired their Islamic knowledge from Sahaabah as well as from numerous such senior Scholars who had studied under the Sahaabah. Thus, they were in close proximity to the age of Rasulullah (sallall~hu alayhi wasallam).
Secondly, the protection of the Qur’aan and Islam were undertaken by Allah Ta’ala Himself. He declares in the Qur’aan:
“ Verily, We revealed the Thikr (Qur’aan) and We are it Protectors.”
Thus the preservation of Islam is a Divine Responsibility. At no stage in the history of Islam was there a time that the full Shariah was not available. Islam was perfected during the time of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). The Qur’aan is emphatic and explicit in making this claim. It is, therefore, Islamically unimaginable that the full and perfect Shariah did not exist with the illustrious Scholars until a couple centuries later when Imaam Bukhaari (rahmatullah alayh) appeared on the scene. Imaam Bukhaari appeared about 120 years after Imaam Abu Hanifah and about 200 years after Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). During this period, i.e. during the absence of Imaam Bukhaari, the Deen was flourishing. Every aspect of Islam was known to the Scholars. Nothing was hidden and unknown.
It is a ludicrous and a kufr supposition to assume that part of the Shariah was concealed from or unknown to the Salaf-e-Saliheen of the first epoch of Quroon-e-Thalathah (The first three noble ages of Islam), and that the supposed ‘unknown’ portion became known only after Imaam Bukhaari (rahmatullah alayh) appeared on the scene 2 centuries later. This supposition is kufr because it militates against the Qur’aanic declaration of:
(1) The perfection of the Deen.
(2) The Divine Protection of the Deen undertaken by Allah Azza Wa Jal, Himself.
Thirdly, Imaam Bukhaari and the other Muhadditheen who compiled the Ahadith in book form did not do so for the benefit of the existing Scholars or for the Scholars before his time. The Scholars before his era were illustrious Fuqaha and Muhadditheen who were the direct students of the Sahaabah or of the Students of the Sahaabah. The Scholars of his time were his (Imaam Bukhaari’s) Ustaadhs and these Scholars were the Students of the Taabieen who in turn were the Students of the Sahaabah. Thus, it was Imaam Bukhaari who benefited from these illustrious Ustaadhs, not the other way around. The compilations of the Muhadditheen were for the benefit of posterity)for the Muslims of later generations. The Scholars before Imaam Bukhaari and those during his time were not at all reliant on his compilations. They were completely independent of the Hadith compilations of the later Muhadditheen. The authorities on which the Scholars (Fuqaha and Muhadditheen) before Imaam Bukhaari’s time relied were Taabieen and Sahaabah. Their knowledge of Islam was firsthand and did not depend on compilations and books. Their Ilm was from the Taabieen whose base of knowledge was the Sahaabah who were Rasulullah’s (sallall~hu alayhi wasallam) Students.
Fourthly, it is a well-known fact that the teaching of Imaam Abu Hanifah as well as of the other Imaams (Fuqaha) was that if an authentic Hadith is acquired with which his ruling conflicts, then such a ruling should be discarded and the ruling stated in the Hadith be accepted. It was made clear that the Math-hab of the Hadith was his (i.e. Abu Hanifah’s) Math-hab. Thus, if and whenever any of the Scholars who followed Imaam Abu Hanifah acquired a Hadith which in their opinion their Ustaad did not know of, immediately the ruling of the Ustaad on the specific issue would be adjusted to conform to the Hadith. But, this process of adjusting such rulings which could have been in conflict with the Hadith on account of all the Ahadith not having reached a particular Imaam, ended long before Imaam Bukhaari presented his compilation. We, therefore, find the Mutakh-khireen (i.e. the Hanafi Fuqaha of the third and fourth centuries) adhering to the rulings which the Hanafi Fuqaha of former times had issued despite them having the knowledge of all Compilations of Hadith prepared by the Muhadditheen. This in itself, is explicit evidence for the fact that the Fuqaha before Imaam Bukhaari were already fully apprized of the various Ahadith which the later Muhadditheen compiled in their Books.
Undoubtedly, the Sahaabah had scattered throughout the Islamic empire. But, long before the Hadith compilations of Imaam Bukhaari, the Scholars had already become aware of the Ahadith narrated by the different Sahaabah. The age adjacent to the age of the Sahaabah was an age of intense Islamic learning. The entire Shariah with its jurisprudence (Fiqh) was systematized and codified long before the age of the Muhadditheen. Such systematization and codification are impossible without a total knowledge of Hadith because Hadith is the Tafseer of the Qur’aan. Without Hadith, there can be no Shariah.
Thus, the Shariah which the Fuqaha had systematized was the Shariah which the Sahaabah had acquired from Rasulullah (sallall~hu alayhi wasallam). Just as the Sahaabah were not reliant on written books for the knowledge and recital of the Qur’aan, so too the next group of Scholars (the Taabieen) was not reliant on any book of Hadith for the systematization of the Shariah. Just as the Sahaabah had the Qur’aan in their memories, so too did the Taabieen have the Ahadith in their memories. Islamic history bears ample testimony to this incontrovertible fact.”
Q. Were not the Hadeeths used by the likes of Imam Abu Hanifah much stronger than those that eventually reached the likes of the Muhadditheen such as Bukhari more than a century later i.e. Hadeeths categorised as ‘weak’ by the likes of Bukhari would actually have been ‘Saheeh’ during the time of Abu Hanifah? Does that also not mean that some of the evidences used by the Four Imams to derive their rulings may actually not have made it to era of the Muhadditheen in a state that is admissible for use as evidence?
”The aim of the Muhadditheen was to sift out the narrations and to prepare books of authentic compilations for the benefit of posterity just as was the aim of the Sahaabah when they had compiled the Qur’aan in book form. The aim was not to benefit the Sahaabah because they were not in need of a book or a written compilation of the Qur’aan. They had the Qur’aan in their memories. The Sahaabah had compiled the Qur’aan in book form for the benefit of posterity.
From this it should be realised that Imaam Bukhaari’s compilation was not for the benefit of the existing Scholars as they were in fact the instructors of Imaam Bukhaari. It is quite possible that the Fuqaha and Muhadditheen prior to Imaam Bukhaari had greater knowledge of Hadith and had a greater advantage in regard to the knowledge of authentic Hadith. The chain of narrators between Imaam Bukhaari and the Sahaabah is very long.
In view of numerous narrators in a chain on account of the large time gap, it is possible that a Hadith which was authentic according to Imaam Abu Hanifah or Imaam Maalik became ‘weak’ in terms of the standard employed by Imaam Bukhaari. Imaam Maalik heard a Hadith directly from the lips of a Sahaabi. The authenticity was most perfect. However, the same Hadith could have reached Imaan Bukhaari two centuries later in a slightly different form or in the same form but with a long chain of narrators. Some of the narrators may not have passed Imaam Bukhaari’s strict test, hence he would be compelled to classify the Hadith as ‘weak’ whilst in actual fact it is an authentic Hadith.
Thus, if Imaam Abu Hanifah, for example, bases a ruling on the strength of a Hadith which according to Imaam Bukhaari is a ‘weak’ narration, the ruling of Imaam Abu Hanifah cannot be rejected on the basis of the designation given to the Hadith by Imaam Bukhaari because Imaam Abu Hanifah and all the early Scholars would not formulate rulings on suspect narrations nor were they reliant of the type of categorization of Hadith formulated by the later Muhadditheen.’
Q. Why are there only four madh-habs?
A. Mufti Muhammad Shafi states:
“Restricting taqleed to the four imams happened incidentally and was not a legal or rational choice. By the will of Allah (azza wa jal), every madhhab besides the four madhhabs disappeared over time and became as if they never existed. Even if ten, thirty, fifty, or hundred rulings from their madhhab are saved, one cannot establish a complete madhhab based on such a small number of rulings. If one decides to follow them in these rulings, then what is to be done in the thousands of other issues where there is no known opinion by them? As every madhhab besides the madhhabs of the four imams disappeared it became clear that following our Deen would be subject to following one of the four madhhabs. Therefore, Ibn Khaldun writes in his Muqaddimat al-Tarikh regarding the madhhab of the Literalists [Ahl al-Zahir]:
“Then the madhhab of the Literalists vanished because their imams died out and because the majority [Jamhur] rejected their followers and nothing remained of them except their names in the new books.”
Ibn Khaldun adds:
“All the different regions, only following of the four imams is observed while the followers of all other imams have died. When terminologies overwhelmed the sciences, reaching the level of ijtihad became difficult [because of the inability to fulfill its conditions]. When ijtihad was about to come in the hands of inept and untrustworthy people and those who did not possess the good character of Deen, the scholars declared the door of ijtihad closed.
They exhorted people to follow one of the four imams and prohibited them from conjoining madhhabs. The rulings and opinions of other imams, therefore, only survived in the books. Their madhhabs never developed and neither were there any books that preserved all their rulings. Once the principles had been laid out and the chain of transmission to the imam authenticated, every person took the madhhab of their imam. Then the word fiqh, in that time, became the epitome for following one imam only. The claim to ijtihad, especially in this age, is absolute nonsense and following such a person is unwarranted. The scholars of Islam are now unanimous upon following these four imams.”
Shaykh Zakariyyah Kandhelvi states:
“Now, for someone to ask for proof as to why taqleed is restricted to four imams is feeblemindedness. This is like the example of a father who had eight children of which four died in his life and four remained after his death. It is understood that any inheritance the father leaves behind will be distributed amongst the four children only, and the four children who died before the father will not receive any share of the inheritance. Of course, this is not a denial of their existence at some point in the past. In this case, you will never hear a person ask why the inheritance is being distributed amongst the four sons only and why the deceased children are not getting their share. But if anyone did ask, we would say that this is how fate had it.
Mulla Jivan wrote in his Tafsir al-Ahmadi:
“The truth is that the restriction to four imams is nothing but the grace of Allah (azza wa jal) and a sign of His acceptance of the four imams. There is no place for evidence and reasoning in this matter.”‘
Another resource, a very colourful resource that is! https://makashfa.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/was-bukhari-abidawood-muslim-all-muqallid-arenromanurdu/ )ignore the tasawwuf part as don’t need to go into that territory yet)
Another note: Narrations by the Four Imaams who themselves were great Muhadditheen as well and who were not dependent on the compilations of anyone, are authentic irrespective of the classification by the later Muhadditheen such as Imaam Bukhaari.